Posted by: mikeduckett | November 27, 2013

Will Big Business ‘do a Clarkson’ on Social Media?

I remember hearing that the end of normal fit pale blue jeans as a credible fashion item was when Jeremy Clarkson wore them; apparently he can be the death of any trend! Which self respecting leading- edge fashionista would want to share Clarkson’s dress sense?

This brings me to social media. Facebook and Twitter were initially places where the ‘alternative you’ could go to express itself unhindered by norms demanded by the adult world. The devil in you could come out to play with all the other kids. Let’s remind ourselves where Facebook began: as a juvenile geek means of commenting on the looks of female college students. Twitter was initially a stream of consciousness from now CEO Jack Dorsey and co-founder Biz Stone who posted such important material as “lunch”, “sleep,” “drawing naked people”, “wishing I had another sammich,” “feeling pains in my back,” and “going out to do an errand”. (For more fascinating early Tweets see Old Tweets ).

Then Big Business woke up and started to cast it’s commercial eye over what was going on. It didn’t take long for advertising companies to use their younger, early-adopter staff to find them a way to make money here. Now a visit to Facebook and increasingly, Twitter, is like a visit to the high street or a magazine or a commercial TV station; you just want to enjoy yourself but you know a clever marketing person knows what you’re up to and wants to cash in.

Well OK, we’re used to that as a way of life so I doubt it will reduce the user base, however I wonder about the effect of more recent incursions into the space by recruitment companies and HR departments. The first incursion that was exposed was the viewing of Facebook postings of employees and candidates to glean an insight into the ‘real’ person behind the work façade.

We’ve all read stories of employees being disciplined or sacked for posting that they’d just taken a sickie. They just got caught out. More worryingly perhaps is the drift into inferring personality characteristics from postings online. It seems from research that the evidence for the accuracy of any such inferences is mixed and the last piece of work I saw recommended caution. Research from North Carolina suggested “…posting updates about drinking and drugs was only related to higher scores on extraversion but not with low scores on conscientiousness. This has potential real-life importance because employers have revealed they view online photos of applicants’ boozing and drug taking as a red flag”. We discussed this on Marlow FM :

Courtesy of Marlow FM & Take One Business Communications

The latest development though concerns Twitter and our choice of language to use in tweets. IBM are currently working on some software (which I assume they will want to sell to employers and recruiters) that analyses Twitter postings and then makes inferences about the author’s character traits based on what are known as The Big 5: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism. So far they think for example, that people who use words like ‘us’, ‘friends’, ‘health’ and ‘home’ care about other people, whereas people who don’t care so much for others use words such as ‘work’, ‘school’, ‘job’, and ‘beer’! We also discussed this on the radio:

Courtesy of Marlow FM & Take One Business Communications

I just wonder if these serious users will quickly devalue the media as it will no longer be a personal space where your inner child can be let loose and your guard dropped. Will LinkedIn then remain as the  space where you’ve always known the adults are watching and you’re used to presenting the right message and signals?

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